North threatens retaliations on U.S.

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North threatens retaliations on U.S.

The top military commander of North Korea’s armed forces on Wednesday warned Pyongyang will answer with “prompt corresponding actions at any level” to military aggression by the United States, in a rare commentary highlighting the rift between the two countries as the end of the year draws near.

Pak Jong-chon, chief of the General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army, said in an English-language statement that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “displeased to hear” remarks from U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday saying he was prepared to use military force against Pyongyang if he had to.

Claiming the United States had recently shown “unusual military moves targeting” the North that prompted it to raise its alertness, Pak said Trump’s comment, though it had preconditions, “greatly disappointed” him and undermined the close relationship shared by the two leaders that currently stood as the “only guarantee that deters physical conflict.”

“Such elated spirit and bluffing may greatly get on the nerve of the dialogue partner even at the slightest slip,” Pak said, adding that “the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the U.S. only.”

“Anyone can guess with what action the DPRK will answer if the U.S. undertakes military actions against the DPRK,” Pak added, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The use of armed forces against the DPRK will be a horrible thing for the U.S.”

Pak’s statement represents the first time a commander of the North’s armed forces directly addresses the United States, testifying to the regime’s anxiety as its self-imposed year-end deadline for denuclearization negotiations approaches. Pak, who was promoted to chief of the general staff in September, is believed to be in Kim Jong-un’s good graces for advancing the North’s conventional military capacity with a series of successful new weapons tests since May this year.

A day earlier, as state media publicized a visit by Kim to Mount Paektu - a symbol of heroic resistance in the country, Pyongyang announced it had scheduled a plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee in the latter part of December “in order to discuss and decide on crucial issues in line with the needs of the development of the Korean revolution and the changed situation at home and abroad.”

If no progress is made to resolve the stalemate in nuclear talks with Washington until then, North Korea is expected to announce a pivot toward a hard-line policy at the meeting.

So far, the two sides have been unable to bridge their differences over the economic sanctions placed on the North’s economy, which Pyongyang insists must be lifted at least in part before it moves forward with major steps toward its denuclearization. Bilateral working-level talks in Stockholm in early October reportedly fell apart on these grounds, and the two sides have been unable to agree to a new round of discussions amid Pyongyang’s continued calls that Washington drop its “hostile policy” toward the North’s security and economy.

While he gave Kim the benefit of the doubt with respect to denuclearization, Trump also appeared to raise pressure on Pyongyang with his ad hoc comments on Tuesday.

Perhaps in anticipation of diplomacy with the United States ending in naught by the year’s end, North Korea has hedged its bets by deepening ties with its traditional partners in China and Russia. While the purpose of his visit remains yet unknown, on Thursday, the North’s Minister of External Economic Relations, Kim Yong-jae, was spotted arriving at Beijing’s Capital International Airport.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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